Local government bodies are forever having public hearings, allowing members of the public to weigh in on a host of issues – everything from zoning changes, annual budgets, even changes in road names.
But for spending the most money in one fell swoop that they’ve ever done, Alamance-Burlington’s school board didn’t seem to care one hoot what the public might think.
Even with $69.5 MILLION at stake, there was no public hearing on what members of the public might like to have the school system do about spending the Covid largesse that the federal government is doling out like Monopoly money.
There was no preliminary plan even publicized so that people might weigh in, even without the formality of a public hearing.
No, school officials just sprang how they wanted to spend the money, and the typically all-too-compliant school board went along.
Only Patsy Simpson barked any sort of dissent, but she was run over by the horde of those ready to spend the money without exploring details of how the money would be spent.
We’ve seen a lot of irresponsible actions taken by governments at all levels – most recently by the President of the United States’ disgraceful and untruthful exit from Afghanistan – but we cannot remember one done with so much bravado and so little information as the rush to spend so much money with so little thoughtful consideration or debate by school officials.
Sandy Ellington-Graves at least had the original thought to ask a question about how the specific schools were selected to get the “air quality” money (16 schools) versus those (18 schools) that will get none.
But school officials were largely dismissive of her inquiry and didn’t give a very substantive response – even when $37.5 million was at stake.
And neither Ellington-Graves nor any other board member pressed for more information before going along with school officials’ recommendations.
We don’t always agree with school board member Simpson, but she at least knows how to ask an independent question, press for rational explanations, and highlight it when she doesn’t get an acceptable “official” answer.
Simpson, understandably in our view, concluded that some of the other expenditures in the superintendent’s recommendations were really just a dressed up version of previous efforts that had been eliminated as not being effective.
But effectiveness was not the criteria being used at last week’s school board meeting.
Apparently, the only significant issue was how fast they could allocate the money.
Questions about inconsistency, past failures of the same approach, etc. were not welcomed by ABSS officials.
So the other members bulldozed right over Simpson on the way to reinstating some of the same failed programs that had been eliminated when money was tighter.
Ah, and that’s the real disappointment in all this. School board members acted like these millions of dollars “from Washington” weren’t somehow just as real as local dollars paid by local property owners and others.
But we’re fairly certain it won’t take long before school officials are back with their hands out, wanting yet more local tax dollars to do some things for which they should have, or could have, used the Covid money.
It was a pitiful sight, and we continue to express our surprise and deep disappointment that there aren’t more school board members willing to speak up – whether to ask questions, provide alternatives, get any public input, or express a dissent.
But “free money from Washington” is just irresistible to pass up, and too easy to spend, so in less than two hours, school board members dutifully spent all $69.5 million that had been presented to them – and they did it in less time than they sometimes spend on issues of far less importance.